By Derek Lee

I’ve always loved photography and it’s been a hobby of mine on and off since I graduated from high school. I love researching all the cameras and photography-related artifacts in the museum’s collection. Since one of our upcoming exhibits is on cameras and photography in Edmond, I wanted to take some time to highlight one of my favorite cameras that will be featured in the exhibit. One of the oldest cameras in the exhibit will be this 1A Pocket Kodak camera that dates to the late 1920s or early 1930s.

Today, hauling this camera around and going through all the necessary steps to get a decent photograph might seem like an excessive amount of work compared to pulling your iPhone out and pushing a couple of buttons. But, 90 years ago it was extremely convenient. Kodak manufactured this camera model from 1926 to 1932. Kodak added an “iridescent” finish, which ours has, to the camera in 1929. The “A” in 1A stands for autographic, which means that the camera uses autographic film. What is autographic film? In short, autographic film allowed the photographer to write a short note about the subject being photographed directly on the film itself with a small metal stylus through a small window in the back of the camera, serving as an early labeling system of sorts. Kodak introduced autographic film in 1914, but the film never really caught on with the public and Kodak discontinued it in 1932.

autographic ad

An early ad for Kodak’s autographic cameras and film; note the short description at the bottom of the negative.


So how did autographic film work?

The film contained a thin layer of carbon paper between the film and the paper backing. When the photographer used the metal stylus to write on the film, pressure from the stylus left the carbon layer translucent enough to allow light to expose the now-translucent portion of the carbon layer without exposing the rest of the carbon layer. The result is a short, handwritten note visible in the margin of the developed photograph.


What about the actual camera? Where’s the lens? How the heck do you open it? And once you get it open, what’s with the accordion looking thing?



The camera “folded” up.

As its name implies, this camera was meant to be carried in one’s pocket – well, jacket pocket anyway. It was introduced in 1926 at a cost of around $20 ($276 today), which put it in the middle of Kodak’s line of cameras. Once the camera is open, the lens slides out on rails until the arms on each side are fully extended and snap into place. That accordion-looking contraption that expands as you pull the lens out? Those are the bellows and they are made of leather.

Why are the bellows needed and what do they do?

The bellows are what make the camera a “pocket” camera; without the collapsible bellows, the camera would have been much larger and nowhere near “pocket” size. Without getting too technical, the flexible bellows allows the lens to move slightly to properly focus on the subject being photographed. The photographer would move the bellows out to focus on objects closer to the camera or move the bellows in towards the camera to focus on something farther away. So how do you move the bellows once you’ve extended them and the support arms are locked into place? There is a small knurled screw on the right side of the slide plate that the photographer turns to move the bellows, and lens, slightly forward and backward. On the left side of the slide plate is a scale showing the photographer what the correct distance to the subject should be in order to take a properly focused photograph. 


Notice the small stylus to the left of the lens, viewfinder on top of the lens, and screw to adjust the bellows below and to the left of the lens.


The back of the camera, showing the “window” to write on the negative.

Once you have the camera open, the bellows extended, the bellows positioned properly based on the distance to your subject, and you’ve chosen the correct aperture and shutter speed…now what? This camera, and most “portable” cameras from the first half of the 20th century, has a waist-level viewfinder – not an eye-level viewfinder like those found on more modern cameras. In this instance, the waist-level viewfinder was cheaper and easier to produce. With older cameras like this one, that have slower shutter speeds, holding the camera steady was very important to avoid blurred photographs. Resting the camera against your waist or on a table accomplishes this better than holding the awkward camera to your eye.

Interested in cameras or photography? Be on the lookout for upcoming blog posts and plan to visit the museum to see the new exhibit in the spring.